Would you be open to marrying someone of superior financial and educational background than you?
Generally, women are traditionally seen to be at peace with this, with the more educated and moneyed a man is, the more suitable a companion they are seen to be for women regardless of the woman's financial or educational status.
For men, here in Kenya and across most cultures of the world, it is a different story. Men are generally seen to exhibit a behaviour of choosing partners of especially lower financial means than their own.
Fewer men choose partners who have more financial and educational achievements than themselves - a phenomenon colloquially termed as 'marrying up'. The few who have dared take this route have been used as cautionary tales of ‘how to Kukaliwa’ by their machismo-enthralled peers.
Well, we are two decades deep into the 21st century, if you thought this is still the case, you will be surprised to know that this is changing.
In fact, the notable rise in the number of men open to marrying 'wealthier' women has been happening over the last decade.
A 2017 University of Kansas study found that as the number of highly educated women has increased in recent decades, the chances of 'marrying up' have increased significantly for men and decreased for women.
Marrying up - or hypergamy as referred to in social science - refers to the act of marrying someone of a higher social class or educational background than yourself. Or simply getting hitched to a spouse who earns and or owns more than yourself.
Some of the most famous fairy tales such as Cinderella involve an economically challenged girl who eventually finds a mate who is financially well off and they go on to live happily ever after.
However, the tables have now turned. Or rather, the playing field appears to be levelling up.
For centuries, this kind of union has mostly been associated with women, but over the last decade or so, more and more men are marrying up.
It is important to distinguish hypergamy from what Kenyans refer to as ‘Kuwekwa na aunty wa Harrier’- which loosely translates to getting a ‘sugar mummy’ or ‘cougar’ if you like to handle one’s financial needs in exchange for their company.
Marrying up doesn’t necessarily translate to an elderly wealthy woman dating a younger man. It is simply the marital union of two people from different sociological backgrounds.
So why is it that there’s an increasing number of men who are getting married to wealthier and better-educated women?
Researchers from the University of Kansas combed through census data running from 1990 to 2011 and found that women’s earnings grew significantly more than their male counterparts during this period.
This has been attributed to a major surge in the girl child’s enrolment in schools which consequently gave them access to more job opportunities.
So purely based on a game of odds, chances are that many men in the dating pool will increasingly come across significantly more women earning more money than they do at the end of the month than it would have been a decade or two ago.
Secondly, some theorists have argued that many traditionally male-dominated jobs have been rendered obsolete by technological and engineering advancements as automation and technology have progressed.
Women have traditionally worked in service-related fields, which are less likely to be automated out of existence.
Even though it may seem unethical or shallow to marry someone simply because they are financially superior, scientists have argued that hypergamy is actually evolutionary advantageous.
This is due to the likelihood of having children who will be well catered for and who can then live long enough to reproduce.
Since the dawn of human history, women have typically preferred to marry up - or at least, there is evidence pointing to this preference. The preferred a man had more resources, vast land, a house etc. as this translated to their future children living comfortably.
The same holds true to date, only that this instinctive preference cuts across the genders - or at least it is now being acknowledged as an important coupling factor by men.
The new trend of men marrying up has opened a can of worms as society comes to grips with the new normal.
For one, a traditional societal setting is likely to look down on such a man. In Kenya, they’d say ‘amewekwa’ regardless of whether the man simply married out of love.
This is because, for centuries, society looked to men as the chief providers and protectors in the family setting. It was not until the late 80’s that girls' enrollment in schools surpassed that of boys - this chiefly in the US.
In Kenya, the last decade has seen girls end the male dominance in schools fueled by among other things affirmative action programmes such that there has been a growing push for ‘boychild empowerment’.
College enrollment for girls also spiked during this period, but men were still viewed as the breadwinners in a typical family setting. This could explain the salary disparity between men and women in similar job roles.
Secondly, many couples enter marriage unaware of the challenges that different levels of financial statuses can bring.
When a husband marries into a wealthy family, there are numerous challenges that can erode the wife's and her family's respect for the husband.
The way each person earns and manages their finances has an impact on the balance of power in most relationships.
For example, if one partner (wife) earns more than the other, the higher earner may feel entitled, while the lower earner may feel resentment and shame.
Research shows that in situations where women do earn more than men, they tend to feel more empowered to make decisions about household finances.
Interestingly, a large-scale analysis of census data by Marianne Bertrand and Emir Kamenica of the University of Chicago and Jessica Pan of the National University of Singapore found that, in places where women are more likely to earn more than men, there are fewer marriages.
The study goes on to explain how a richer woman will often go out of her way to ensure that her spouse doesn’t feel emasculated. This money-power dynamics bump has been argued to be the leading cause of most divorces.
A study from the University of Bath suggests that this new trend of men marrying up is impacting male partners’ mental health.
For context, the researchers observed 6,000 American couples over a 15-year period to see the effect of this new trend on people’s physical and mental health, life satisfaction and relationships.
They found that as women made more money, men became “increasingly uncomfortable” and stressed.
It was further revealed that in a situation where the woman brings in the big money, couples have a hard time discussing any confusing emotions that may arise.
As controversial as it may sound, some studies have actually linked a higher-earning spouse to infidelity.
This was explored in When Love Meets Money: Priming the Possession of Money Influences Mating Strategies - A study by the Institute of Developmental Psychology, School of Psychology, Beijing Normal University, Beijing, China
The researchers highlighted the possibility that women seek good genes through “extra-pair mating”. They believe that sometimes it would be adaptive for some women to secure sufficient resources from a long-term partner and obtain heritable benefits from “extra-pair mates”.
The study further stated that it is reasonable to believe that women are more likely to engage in extra-pair mating when they have their own access to money and depend less on men's resources.
However, previous studies indicated that women are more likely to protect their relationships than men.
Psychologists have come up with a couple of ways to navigate through the money-power dynamics as listed below.
Money and power go hand and hand in personal relationships. This is why psychologists believe that couples that find a way to move forward together financially have a good chance of surviving the ups and downs of marriage.
Despite the noted trend of men being more open to marrying up, either consciously by choice or by the inevitable upset of the centuries-old gender income gap, the almost stereotypical observation of a ‘default’ instinct to marry up is markedly persistent in women.
A study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family titled Gender Asymmetry in Educational and Assortative Marriage examined how women’s educational advancements in recent decades have impacted marriage patterns among newlywed heterosexual couples.
It found that the tendency for women to marry men with higher incomes has persisted.
“Women were 93% more likely to marry men in higher income deciles than themselves among couples in which the wife had more education than the husband than among couples in which the wife had less education than the husband.” reads an excerpt from the study.
The study also stated that men may hesitate to form marital relationships with women who have both more education and higher incomes than they do.
This backed the traditional beliefs that women marrying up is seen as the norm, despite their level of income.
However, girls who marry up have also had their fair share of criticism and unsavoury names tagged on them such as gold-digger, or as they say in Kenya ‘amewekwa na mubaba’ to mean one has a sugar daddy.
However, as scientific studies have shown picking a spouse falls under the laws of natural selection where the fittest or in this case, the richest, stands a better chance.
The impact that money has on relationships cannot be downplayed. As much as the best relationships are those in which both parties are equal partners, working together as a team to tackle life and all of its obstacles, money still needs to be a regular topic in the household.
According to experts, couples in a hypergamy setting need to be proactive in identifying future money hazards and have candid and constructive talks around these threats, so as to prevent them from becoming insurmountable in the future.